Exploring Asia: Learning About Silversea's S.A.L.T.

As Silversea Cruises’ Silver Muse began a seven-day itinerary from Bali, Indonesia, to Manila, the Philippines, late last week, I boarded for a sneak peek at the line’s newly announced S.A.L.T program. It's a “work in progress” as the ultra-luxury line is still dreaming up ideas and trialing different concepts.

S.A.L.T. stands for "sea and land tastes." It's a new culinary focus crafted by Silversea in collaboration with Adam Sachs, director of the S.A.L.T. project, winner of the James Beard Journalism Award and former editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine. 

Essentially, S.A.L.T. will bring a highly immersive approach that taps into food and local culinary concepts, traditions and activities as the prime hook for guests to dive deeply into the destination experience. 

Simply put, food becomes the means to the destination.

By fall 2020, S.A.L.T. will debut on the new Silver Moon, a sister ship to Silver Muse. “On the Silver Moon, we are actually making some big changes to allow the S.A.L.T. project to come to full bloom,” said Barbara Muckermann, the line’s chief marketing officer, who is accompanying cruise journalists and food writers on Silver Muse this week. 

New Spaces & Concepts

On Silver Moon, the Indochine restaurant on Deck 4 will become the S.A.L.T. Kitchen, changing the dining focus of that restaurant based on the region of sailing.

“So if we are in Iberia, the restaurant will serve Spanish food and tapas,” Muckermann says, while alternatively, if it’s sailing to southern India, the dishes will reflect that cuisine.

Or, in Indonesia, guests might see such dishes as the one in the photo at right (an example of Balinese cooking that we sampled ashore at Kaum.) 

“The other thing that is going to happen on Silver Moon is that we are going to have a new bar between the S.A.L.T. Kitchen (currently Indochine) and Atlantide," Muckermann says. "The new watering hole will be called the S.A.L.T. Bar." 

In that new bar, guests will find spirits, wine, beer, juices and cocktails from the region in which the ship is sailing. Muckermann also says that bar will be the hub for day-time tastings.   

During this week's introduction to S.A.L.T. on Silver Muse, two Silversea crew members -- Clifford Roman, a bartender from the Philippines, and Adnyana Putu Widya, a bar waiter from Indonesia, gave reporters a taste of that program.

In addition, Karolina Djeric, head sommelier, showcased Balinese wines and explained the fascinating development of the wine industry on that tropical island.

Other Venues Relocated 

Also on Silver Moon, La Dame, the line’s fine dining French restaurant, will be relocated to the current space occupied by the Arts Café. That former La Dame space will become a test kitchen called the S.A.L.T Lab. 

So what's happening to Arts Café? It will move to the space now used for the smoking lounge.

In turn, that smoking venue will move to what’s now the children’s space. Marina Vivian, the line’s director of communications, also sailing onboard with reporters, told me they probably won’t have a dedicated kids’ space on that new ship.

She stressed that there aren’t that many kids onboard much of the time, plus the line can use other spaces (as needed) to temporarily accommodate children's activities if enough kids are sailing.

An even more in-depth approach to S.A.L.T. with other enhancements will debut on Silver Dawn, another new ship that launches in 2021. Following in 2022 is the line's Silver Evolution -- as the line launches its first ship in a new class of luxury vessel. 

That new ship order was possible following a 67 percent majority investment by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in Silversea last year. 

For all new ships, agents can expect capacity to remain at or below the 600-guest level.

Changing Audience

In 2004, Muckermann was involved in planning the positioning for Silver Muse, and she says “what was really important to the guest was to have exactly the same service wherever you were because the guest was mostly 'The Silent Generation'.”

These guests lived through World War II and were afraid of tasting the local cuisine, Muckermann said: “They really wanted to make sure that the ship was bringing along all the comfort and security of the American food."

Today, things have changed. Silversea has evolved as a brand, sailing to 1,084 destinations (many exotic) across the globe.

And yes, it still attracts traditional guests or those from that Silent Generation who are still traveling, but increasingly, the ultra-luxury line is drawing more Baby Boomers and some other younger guests, too. 

Entrée to the Destination

The reality is that those younger guests view food differently. "We’re able to offer the unique view into the food as a way to meet the people because our guests...‘like to collect people, not monuments,'" said Muckermann.  

Onboard Silver Muse this week, the line tapped Balinese culinary expert, Maya Kerthyasa, also a journalist, to showcase the island's culinary traditions.

She spoke about Indonesian cuisine and showcased ingredients; directed reporters in a spice paste workshop; lectured about symbolism in Balinese cuisine; and taught guests to make lawar salad. 

Silversea is looking at bringing on some different types of culinary-focused, local speakers -- and evaluating what connects best with guests. In addition to working with journalists, Kerthyasa also did a guest presentation the same day. 

During our S.A.L.T. introduction, we also went ashore to dine at two Balinese restaurants. The first night we met Chef Wayan Kresna Yasa at the Kaum Restaurant, a highly rated eatery that opened recently at Bali's Potato Head Beach Club.

He's Indonesian but has worked in both New York and Chicago. He spent three years going around Bali and other islands to gather family recipes.

Most notably, he's the chef of another Balinese restaurant, Ijen, which uses sustainable seafood and has a zero-waste philosophy. So, Silversea believes he can talk about tradition but also the modern state of Indonesian cuisine and Bali's cutting-edge restaurant scene.

When asked if Silversea would turn the journalists' explorations to local restaurants like Kaum into similar shore trips for guests, the answer was "yes." That's the plan. 

Another shoreside experience was a Balinese breakfast at Nusantara restaurant by Locavore with Chefs/Owners Eelke Plasmeijer and Ray Adriansyah. That restaurant has been highly ranked on many international best restaurant lists. 

Check out my breakfast in the photo slide show above.

Look for Storytelling

The line is tapping into Sachs because of its strong desire to "tell the story" -- not simply to show and sample food.  

Moving forward, the line will seek food experts and chefs who can comfortably communicate with guests – not just showing recipes and ingredients but also explaining the cultural tips and traditions behind those tasty local dishes.

“This is a fairly radical idea to really change the way the entire cruise line deals with food,” Sachs said.

How so? “It’s very radical in that it’s connecting travelers to the places they are [seeing] through what they’re eating and drinking, and that’s not something that happens anywhere else," he stressed.

"Everyone else has gone either the celebrity chef route or 'we have more champagne and more caviar,'" Sachs said, noting that while Silversea has plenty of champagne and caviar too, "what about where you are and how do you connect with the place through what you eat?”

Three Particulars

“We like to say S.A.L.T is about three particulars,” said Muckermann. “The first one is 'the ingredients,' because good food is mostly created around the produce and the ingredients.”

She noted that many Americans have never seen a lot of ingredients from exotic spots across the globe. The goal is for people to taste things they never knew existed.

The second element focuses on “the techniques” that local chefs and cooks take – how they build the food. “When you follow the world, you can see that the same food can be transformed into amazing things just by changing the way you are cooking it," she noted. 

“But the third and most important piece is 'the people,'” Muckermann emphasized, citing the presence of both Kerthyasa, as well as an upcoming visit with Nicole Ponseca, a food expert and author, from the Philippines, as good examples of how guests can learn from and interact with food experts who are rooted in the local culinary scene and culture.

Muckermann's perspective? “These are really people who can really introduce us and give us a completely new point of view on the food culture of the destination, and it’s different from a celebrity chef because they become celebrities by understanding so well what’s special about the stories of the terroir."

Sachs also emphasized the line's journalistic, narrative approach to figuring out what it wants to offer. Right now, “we’re very much in the reporting stage,” he said. “This is story is not done yet...We’re meeting people as we go and we’re seeing what works and what doesn’t work.”

Each voyage will have a S.A.L.T. host/hostess. Cruisers can head for the S.A.L.T. Lab to do personal research on culinary topics, meet the host/hostess, ask questions or just explore on their own.The S.A.L.T host/hostess also will conduct lectures for guests in the ship's theater. 

Choices in Dining

"Baby Boomers have seen more walls going down than walls going up," said Muckermann. "They’ve seen barriers going down and they’re much more explorative about the culture and the taste. They’re happy to taste different food and that’s where we cannot think about serving the same type of cuisine wherever we are.”

Still, she said, Silversea is an ultra-luxury line and will offer diverse dining choices, too. Guests needn't worry, for example, that in South American ports, the line will only offer Latin dishes. That won't happen. 

“But in the same range of choices, we need to be able to offer a regional experience," she said. "That’s what the S.A.L.T Kitchen is going to be about."

As for the S.A.L.T. Lab, don't expect it to be too formal – as some lines have done with rows of individual cook-top stations or official diplomas at the program's end. But there will be some interactive classes. 

“It will be the hub of culinary exploration, so it will be the place that maybe before we go on a trip [ashore], you would meet and talk about what’s going to happen,” said Sachs.

Then after guests return from a market trip and bring specialty ingredients back, there might be wine tasting, a hands-on demo or light interactive cooking lessons.

"It’s really more like a hang out...a headquarters for the food nerds aboard," Sachs said, calling it a hybrid space. "It's a place where you meet, it’s a place where you have conversations."

Look for that culinary hub to offer most or all programs on a complimentary basis, but likely with advance sign-ups. Because the lab is small, with just 22 seats, the line believes it's important to manage the flow.  

Choices of Intensity

Muckermann and Sachs said that with the culinary hub or S.A.L.T. Lab, the regional S.A.L.T. Bar and a regional S.A.L.T. Restaurant, then there’s really a way to touch everyone onboard.

It's good to consider S.A.L.T. interest from guests as a pyramid. Sachs expects food nerds at the very top of that pyramid, comprising a small group of people who want to see and do everything culinary.

They “self-identify as people who want to travel to eat,” said Sachs. So, they might spend their entire week going on shore excursions that are culinary-focused and then returning to the ship for interactive classes about cooking. These people will desire to closely follow the region’s food story.

The middle section of the pyramid, though, will consist of a larger group of people “who want to dabble in culinary a little bit,” Sachs said. They'll perhaps go to one cooking class, go a couple of times to dine in the SALT Kitchen and they’ll be happy to find out more.

The base of the pyramid is anchored by the classic or traditional travelers –  those who are happy with the current Silversea product. They like what they already eat and want to have that most nights.

But Sachs then says that the line will hook them with a welcome cocktail with a local ingredient or a local tradition here and there. They might sample some local hors d’ouevres and for one night during a week-long cruise dine in the S.A.L.T. Restaurant.

“The hope is…the plan is that everyone at some time will be touched by this,” says Sachs. "Even if you’re the most engaged, food-minded traveler, there’s something for you here that you won’t find anywhere else in the category.”

But, “if you’re a little more conservative and you like what Silversea delivers, you’ll still find some tastes along the way,” he says. “You’ll go home with a story to tell your friends. This is the ship that brings me flavors of where I am in the world."

Layering in Options

Silversea also has other types of customers -- ones with active or other interests. 

“We are seeing more and more Boomers and 'Next Generations' coming on and that’s where you’re seeing the layers that we are adding to the classic product, like we are doing on the Silver Whisper with the addition of the Zodiacs,” Muckermann said.

Almost sold out, the line’s first World Cruise that includes Zodiacs (in 2020) is going to all seven continents, including Antarctica. “It shows how you can add layers to even the most classical of the products, because the World Cruise is surely the most conservative product we have," Muckermann said.

Coming to Silversea with a strong destination background is Arnaldo Zanonato, Silversea’s new director, regional experiences development. He's been hired to take the S.A.L.T. concept of in-depth immersion and localization into the destination side.

So, he'll be looking at making the destination a priority throughout the entire sailing experience - from lectures to shore trips, from onboard activities to new destination options. "How can we put destination as the centerpiece of it all?” Zanonato asked.

In that vein, look for a lot more to come, he says, noting that it’s only “baby steps” right now.

Stay tuned too as I continue my Exploring Asia series of articles/blogs. Next up is Vietnam.

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